While the semiconductor industry has been swift to collaborate on many things, improved production is not one of them. Historically, competitors have been quick to band together in the realm of research and design in order to settle on advancements such as a new standard wafer size. Yet chip production itself remains a black hole where manufacturers work through a maze of data and analytics alone in the ever more difficult attempt to optimize yield. To solve this problem, it’s critical that manufacturers and vendors begin to work together—ideally on an open platform. Here, we’ll explain why companies hesitate to collaborate, and fears surrounding collaboration are unfounded when using the Fabscape open platform.
Why is it Difficult to Collaborate in the Semiconductor Industry?
There’s a simple reason why collaboration is challenging when it comes to semiconductor mass production: Yield optimization is a competitive advantage, thus data and analytics tools are often proprietary. That’s why when today’s manufacturers and equipment vendors hear the phrases “open platform” or “cross-vendor collaboration,” they fear exposing proprietary technology—including data, specifications, performance characteristics, and algorithms—to competitors or customers who should not have access.
Fabscape was designed with built-in security mechanisms that form a “safe space” for data sharing, where multiple vendors (including competitors) can co-exist on the same platform. This allows both equipment vendors and customers to enjoy a unified and collaborative data-sharing experience while safely keeping sensitive technology to themselves. While no system can guarantee zero percent risk under every circumstance, risk can be managed to be virtually nonexistent if the open platform system is designed properly.
Why Should Semiconductor Manufacturers Streamline Data on an Open Platform?
Software collaboration may be intimidating, but it is also essential. It is true that companies can already collect and visualize data from Equipment Vendor A and Equipment Vendor B on their own—and if they have a mature analytics solution, they may even be able to accomplish this on a single platform. Yet what many companies struggle with is the ability to gain deeper and more meaningful insight into equipment data.
In the current process of operating a fab, each vendor defines their own set of shareable data and provides access to that data to their customers. In the old days, the standard data provided by vendors was sufficient for chip manufacturers to run a successful fab. But with today’s complex manufacturing technology and razor-thin margins, that’s no longer enough. To remain competitive, many chip manufacturers are forced to push their equipment to the limit while maintaining a stable production line. Achieving this requires a much more sophisticated understanding of the equipment they use.
A deeper understanding of equipment requires access to more and different types of data, which can only come from one place: enhanced collaboration between equipment vendors and chip manufacturers. Currently manufacturers must devise solutions with individual vendors one by one, which results in multiple custom software applications that must be managed and maintained. Fabscape was designed to solve this puzzle by:
- Enabling chip manufacturers and equipment vendors to share and analyze data on a single unified platform
- Empowering manufacturers to obtain, view, and analyze custom equipment data with ease
- Bridging the gap between necessary equipment insights and vendor proprietary barriers
One open platform has the potential to be the “magic bullet” for vendors and manufacturers alike. It is a safe space in the middle where manufacturers can get what they need from every vendor across the board, with all data flowing into a single platform. This unlocks a key result: the fab production line can now be analyzed as a single system on one streamlined platform.
Collect Standard and Unique Data, Not Trade Secrets
Standard data is data that is not proprietary or unique to the equipment vendor and exists across equipment of the same type, regardless of vendor. While most chip manufacturers already collect standard data, collection is only the first step to success. A single solution that streamlines the collection of standard data across vendors is useful, but is not enough to optimize production in today’s environment. Manufacturers and vendors must next work together to unlock unique or non-standard data that is not routinely shared but holds immense value. Finally, you must be able to make sense of the data you collect and apply new knowledge and complex analytics that generate value.
To obtain new depth and insight from equipment data, the only reliable source is the equipment vendors themselves. Gathering and sharing unique data with peace of mind is notoriously difficult. That is exactly why Fabscape was created—to allow for the secure collaboration, collection, and analysis of all types of data.
To understand one method by which this is achieved on the Fabscape open platform, consider the diagram above. It describes the typical process of data collection from equipment on the production line. Fabscape communicates with equipment through Drivers, which are typically developed and offered by the vendor of that equipment.
When a Driver fetches data, it places the equipment data into the collective database within Fabscape’s core. However, the Driver can also be programmed to keep a portion of vendor unique data locked away in a dedicated database. This unique data set has restricted access, meaning it is only accessible by users (or other Fabscape Plugins) that the vendor has granted permission to view. When granted credentials, select users can view the unique data via a private interface built into the Driver.
The value of unique data may be huge depending on what it represents. If a customer requests access to unique data that they recognize will benefit their fab operation, Fabscape allows vendors to share that unique data on the open platform in a way that is secure and within their exclusive control. You can watch Fabscape in action firsthand by viewing our 2023 Semiconductor Digest webinar.
Control Access at the Vendor and User Level
On Fabscape, vendors can easily grant customer requests on their own terms: Vendors decide where, when, and how they choose to share data (or not). The term “open” in open platform means open for anyone to develop on – not open for anyone to see. The goal of the Fabscape platform is simply to offer a space where any vendor solution can co-exist with others to generate both unique and standardized value from their equipment data.
When a manufacturer and a vendor collaborate on Fabscape, the security measures mirror steps taken in other scenarios where proprietary resources are shared externally. Vendors and manufacturers can both obscure or mask the unique data that flows to and from Fabscape, providing access to the specific pieces of the platform that are relevant.
Permission can also be granted at the user level within Fabscape. Access to data and information can be granted to individuals, plugins, or drivers — all of which are considered “users” in the Fabscape system. For example, you can say that plugins from Vendor A will only be able to talk to “X” part of the system, and so on. You can control everything at the user level, not just human users. This helps you manage access in a standard and comprehensive way.
Pursue Industry Collaboration Safely and Securely
The key to optimizing chip production in the modern age is collaboration. The Fabscape platform was designed as a safe space where data can flow in, be visualized in conjunction with other equipment data, and become actionable data as a result. Multiple vendors can create drivers for the Fabscape platform, but the combined fruits of that labor are secure and visible only to the manufacturer.
Using Fabscape allows participants to:
- Deploy custom solutions quickly by allowing vendors to create plugins and drivers that give Fabscape access to the data customers need
- Program access so that only the data pertinent to the fab use case passes through, while keeping trade secrets out of the mix
- Work towards the reality of a truly open platform ecosystem that is not controlled by a single entity and reduces the risk of software investments becoming obsolete
While the extent of collaboration will depend on the relationship between individual vendors and their customers, the benefit of an open platform is that vendors are free to empower customers to use data — standard or unique — in ways that improve their operation for the better.
Ready to explore Fabscape? Watch our recent Semiconductor Digest webinar or read the recap. Manufacturers can contact us directly to apply the power of Fabscape to your production line.